Recent Events in Tibet and Their Impact on India

Tibet issue had been regarded as a lost cause by 1970s but it has revived to recapture the international attention by 1980s due to combination of factors. Since then it has remained as a major irritant in Chinese foreign policy in general and India-China relations in particular. In fact, Tibet issue is the manifestation of level of mistrust and apprehension in the relationship between the two emerging powers of the globalized world. A relevant question to ask is: who stand to gain from the mistrust and tension between the two Asian giants? Isn’t it not in national interest of the both countries to find a just and acceptable solution to Tibet issue? Wouldn’t there be more chance of convincing China if India takes on the role of mentor to urge China to find a negotiated just solution to Tibet issue? How does India’s national interest been served when seen to be succumbed to China’s pressure on Tibet? How does it affect India’s prestige and international standing?

Factors for revival the Tibet issue:

Generally speaking from the experience in the history of mankind, revolts against dictatorial regimes do not occur when conditions are most dire and repression most severe but, rather, during periods of relaxation and relative prosperity following periods of deeper repression. This was the case in Tibet. The post-Mao leadership in China followed a policy of liberalization in Tibet which provided a social space for the Tibetans to pick up the pieces of their shattered cultural and religious lives and rebuild their identity once again. It is the clear indication that despite decades of oppressive rule and indoctrination, the Chinese state could not crush the spirit of Tibet.

Second major factor for the revival of Tibet issue is the visit of fact-finding delegations from exile community to Tibet. In its attempts to bring back the Dalai Lama, as his existence in exile caused embarrassment, and also to display that China has become a normal state, the post-Mao Chinese leadership allowed four fact-finding delegations to visit Tibet. The spontaneous outpouring of emotion displayed by the Tibetan in greeting the delegations revealed that the people’s religious faith and nationalistic feelings remained uncontaminated. The Tibetans demonstrated their nationalism in full glare of the foreign tourists in Tibet. The news items of Tibetan discontentment and their demand for independence from the Chinese control received wide international coverage. Despite suppression, frequent revolts and resistance continued which led to imposition of martial law in Tibet in March 1989.

Third major factor which led to the revival of Tibet issue is the frequent visit of the Dalai Lama to the West and overwhelming support both from the states and general public for his non-violence struggle against Chinese rule over Tibet. Taking into account the stake reality of international politics, the Dalai Lama greatly diluted his stand on the status of Tibet. While eschewing persistent Tibetan claims to independence, the Dalai Lama demanded ‘genuine autonomy’ for the whole of Tibet within the Chinese State.

After a decade of impasse since the imposition of martial law in Tibet, negotiation between the exile representatives and Chinese state resumed in September 2002. Till now eight rounds of negotiations are held. It is not expected to achieve any breakthrough in these talks as there is clear lack of political will among the Chinese leadership. They have devised their own strategies of finding the ‘final solution’ to Tibet issue.

China’s strategies

One of its strategies of solving Tibet issue is through demographic transformation. Earlier limit on Han migration to Tibet, adopted during liberalization period, was revised. On the pretext of ambitious development plans for Tibet, the Han Chinese deluged into the Tibetan homeland and thus reduce Tibetan not only into insignificant minority in their home land but made them to occupy a lower economic stratum. The similar policy was successful carried earlier by China in Manchuria, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. Thus, Beijing hopes to find the final solution to Tibet issue through demographic inundation of Tibet.

Another strategy of China is to keep negotiating with exile delegations and continue the talk for sake of talking to buy time. It is of the view that the Dalai Lama may not live very long as the age is catching on him. China’s strategy is to keeping talking to placate the international pressure and buy time to wait till the demise of Dalai Lama. With his death, they believe that Tibet issue would find ‘final solution’.

The third strategy is to pressurize Indian state to reign in Tibetan exile community and prevent them from indulge in political activities against China. It also seems to be exerting pressure on India state to forcefully return the exile community to end the embarrassment for the Chinese state.

Impact on India-China Relations

Throughout the process of rapprochement between China and India since late 1970s, Tibet issue figured high in their agenda. Beijing has tried to persuade Delhi to reduce and suspend its tacit support for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile community. India’s position has been that, while it welcomes Tibetan refugees within its borders, and while it sympathizes with their efforts to maintain their cultural traditions, it does not allow them to engage in anti-Chinese political activities on Indian soil. During the first high level visit to China by Indian Minister of External Minister in 1979, Atal Bihari Vajpayee explained that the Dalai Lama was given refuge in India purely in deference to his spiritual position. Ordinary Tibetans were granted refugee status on strictly humanitarian grounds. If individual Tibetans wished to return to China, India would not stand in their way, but India would not pressure them to leave India or return to Tibet. During Rajiv Gandhi’s landmark visit to Beijing in December 1988 the question of Indian policy toward Tibetans living in India ranked high on the agenda. According to the joint communiqué signed at the conclusion of the visit, “The Chinese side expressed concern over anti-China activities by some Tibetan elements in India. The Indian side reiterated the long-standing and consistent policy of the government of India that Tibet is an autonomous region of China and that anti-Chinese political activities by Tibetan elements are not permitted on Indian soil.” The use of the phrase autonomous region can be construe as India’s intention to remind Beijing of the promise it had made in 1954-1957 in return for India’s endorsement of China’s ownership of Tibet.

Since then, Beijing has intensified pressure on Delhi to restrict Tibetans activities. Initially, Indian state responded to Beijing’s demands very reluctantly and to a limited degree. However, as Beijing and Delhi maneuvered to improve their relations, Indian state’s stand on Tibet issue weakened and increased restrictions are imposed on Tibetan community in India. Even the meetings between the Indian leaders and the Dalai Lama have become a rare event for quite some time. This might be the effect of the warning issued like that of Chinese Ambassador to India Zhou Gang in 1998 where he is reported to have stated “Any government leader, including those of India, who meet the Dalai Lama under any pretext under any name and in any form …will be interfering in China’s internal affairs and will seriously hurt the Chinese people’s feelings. China expresses deep regrets and dissatisfaction over this as a matter of course”. The Indian state’s banning its officials of attending the felicitation meeting in New Delhi upon the Dalai Lama’s return from receiving US Congressional Gold Medal can be taken as another indication of India kowtow to Beijing.

This trend is further manifested in Indian Government’s over cautious respond to the latest round of protest against the Chinese rule starting on 10th March 2008, the Tibetan national uprising day and continued for more than a month in all three regions of Tibet. Further demonstration of Indian state acting in subservient fashion is evident in the way the Indian police swooped down on nonviolent Tibetan protesters against Beijing hosting of Olympic game and imprisoned them for 14 days under India’s preventive detention law.

These evidences of humiliating deference to China undermine India’s national interests as a rising power and corrode its credential as a liberal democracy.

Factors countering China’s Strategies of Final Solution

China’s strategies of final solution to Tibet issue by waiting for the demise of Dalai Lama and the demographic inundation in Tibet not likely to work. Tibetans in the twenty first century are different from that Tibetans in the previous centuries. They are aware of the Chinese strategies and they have been taking counter-measures to foil China’s strategies. Even if the Dalai Lama is no more in the scene and even if China could deluge the Tibetan territory with their population might, Tibet issue is not likely to disappear. The reasons being that Tibetans spread all over the world, are taking the responsibility of not only generating awareness of Tibet issue but are fiercely committed to preserve their identity and culture. Wherever they are resettled in this wide world, invariably they have established cultural centres where they meet frequently for religious, social and political purposes to keep alive the spirit of Tibet and pass on to the younger generation. These Tibetans are unlikely to let China bury the Tibet issue.

Even if the Tibet is deluge with Chinese population and even if China rules the Tibetans with iron fest, Tibetans in Tibet unlikely to go down without resistance. Even the most trusted ethnic Tibetan cadres of the Communist Party of China are raising their voice against China’s rule in Tibet. The latest prominent among them is Phuntsok Wangyal. Even some of the Chinese intellectuals are openly raising their voice and questioning the stand taken by their own government.

Even if the China has been successful in their third strategy of pressuring Indian state authority, India public are unlikely to be silence by China’s arm twisting. In fact, Indian public and media are questioning the state authority of what did India gain in return for its constant assurances and watering down its stand on Tibet issue. As public perception counts in the liberal democratic state, they would not approve of their government kowtow to Beijing all the time.

India’s Role in Future of Tibet Issue

Apart from China, the Tibet Issue concerns no other country more than it does India not only because of the civilizational linkage but also as a responsible host to quarter a million of Tibetan refugees and their offspring. An unresolved Tibet Issue not only jeopardizes relations between India and China but also could drag two emerging powers into mutually destructive war. India’s standing as a regional and global leader is at stake. India needs to demonstrate its self-confidence and take on the role of mentor to convince China the need of honorable and just solution through dialogue with the Dalai Lama. India should play the role of facilitator of such dialogue.

If China persists on its present path of regarding Tibet issue as ‘internal matter’, then India should have courage to tell forthrightly to China that it recognized Tibet as part of China in 1954 agreement on the assurance that China would respect its autonomy. Since Beijing has failed to live up to that assurance, Tibet issue is no longer internal matter of China. India along with other states should facilitate Tibetans both inside and outside the Tibet to exercise right to self-determination to decide for themselves whether they want to have independence or whether they want to be China’s Tibet or India’s Tibet. If later two are the only feasible option, then reality on the ground proves that Tibetans are better off to be India’s Tibet as multicultural and liberal democratic state of India proved to be more conducive environment to preserve and thrive Tibetan identity and culture. Therefore, the need of the hour is for India to play more proactive role on Tibet issue to display that it is indeed a responsible emerging global power with courage to live up to its principled stand.

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